Newport Beach Film Festival: From shorts to stars

By Natasha Martinez

Italian filmmaker Vincenzo Constantino plays nearly every role you might find on a regular film set. This year, Constantino was one of many filmmakers from nearly 50 countries at the Newport Beach Film Festival, one of America’s largest and most critically acclaimed festivals to date.

“I am practically the producer, director, writer, photographer, editor, and the visual effects guy,” said Constantino of his film Handy that has been an official selection at more than 50 film festivals this year including Cannes.

“It took me four years to finish my film. I was working 12 to 13 hours per day,” said
Constantino. “It brings me joy and makes me happy because I sacrificed four years for it.”

The Newport Beach Film Festival has been bringing filmmakers from all over the world for the past 15 yfifteen years, and what started as a small production now has hundreds of staff members and volunteers that help with a week long event.

Opening night welcomed 53,000 people and 400 films with an electric red carpet premiere of "Love Sick" starring Matt Leblanc and Chevy Chase.

"Having been born and raised in Orange County, this is a very special homecoming for me, said Josh Goldstein one of the producers on the film, “It is an honor for Love Sick to open the 15th annual Newport Beach Film Festival".

An after party gala in the middle of Fashion Island followed the star studded event. Everyone from local and foreign filmmakers, actors, former Laguna Beach stars, OC housewives, and even Newport's mayor Rush Hill were in attendance. If that wasn't enough stardom, some of the biggest actors and actresses from Hollywood were having their films screened at the festival like Joaquin Phoenix, Lilly Collins, Sofia Vergara,Ethan Hawke and Katie Holmes. 

A view of the press line on opening night of the 15th annual Newport Beach Film Festival; Photo courtesy of Robert Perez.
A view of the press line on opening night of the 15th annual Newport Beach Film Festival; Photo courtesy of Robert Perez.

"Because of our proximity to LA, we get a lot of the industry both in front and behind the camera so we're kind of getting used to it now after fifteen years" said Todd Quartararo, one of the founders of the festival. 

With tickets being only 15 dollars the theaters were packed with not just people associated with the films but local orange county residents looking to get a taste of the Hollywood Life in their own backyards.

"It's nice to have it so close to our community, it's just a drive up the street and boom you're here," said Ryan Patrick Jones. 

Street performers and the stars on Hollywood boulevard may need to start envying the tranquil beach vibe of Newport and with the festival continuing to grow, maybe the new filmmaking mecca will make its way to Orange County. Hollywood watch out!

"It's a great opportunity for the city to show itself. Our hotels, our restaurants, our shopping, our beaches, our harbor, all of those things and people get to come here and enjoy that. I'm willing to bet that a lot of them will come into town and say we're going to come back", Mayor Hill said. 

For those who weren't new to the film festival, they had appreciation of what Newport had to offer as opposed to other festivals around the country. Many described this festival to be all about the filmmakers instead of the hype and celebrity like most other festivals. In the eyes of a filmmaker the main focus is portraying a story in a way that will impact the community. 

Steve Albrezzi, the writer/director of the film Commencement starring Two and Half Men's Marin Hinkle and Castle's Arye Gross, had his West Coast premiere on the second night of the festival. His film was mean to address a coming of age story in the midst of the fiscal crisis in this country. His spin on the issue however was to bring comedy to the situation which is where Gross comes in. 

Staff members and volunteers posing for a fun picture just before the screening of “Love Sick” on Newport Beach Film Festival’s opening night; Photo courtesy of Robert Perez.
Staff members and volunteers posing for a fun picture just before the screening of “Love Sick” on Newport Beach Film Festival’s opening night; Photo courtesy of Robert Perez.

"It's the comedy of people who are trying to move forward and keep things going when their lives are kind of falling apart", said Gross. His Fatherly character Nate is trying to keep up appearances when he is taking a tremendous financial hit. "He hasn't quite fallen yet and he hasn't quite realized there is nothing under him, “said Gross.

Staying true to what indie filmmaking is all about, Albrezzi was able to finish the film within 12 days. He was moved by the fact that he had a team of artists who came together and pulled their weight to finish the film. Albrezzi is the former director from South Coast Repertory, a theatre troupe in Orange County and his work with the troupe made it extra special to have their premiere in Newport.

"If you're going to tell stories sitting around a campfire, which is essentially what we're doing, it's really nice to talk to people in your neighborhood and we appreciate that", said Albrezzi.

The festival also opens up opportunities for actors to go behind the scenes and practice their directing chops. For director Matt Mercer this was his second time attending NBFF but his first time experiencing it as a director for his film You or a Loved One. He's seen the festival grow since 2006 and notes that the best part about its growth is the variety of films that get chosen to screen and choosing which ones to watch. "It's almost over whelming," says Mercer. 

For writer/producer Chris Bouffard, another former actor and first timer at the festival, getting to be on his own set was a completely different experience. "We get by doing our acting jobs but to get to be on our own set… (insert fist bump here)".

Having films accepted to a festival is a hard task in itself for these filmmakers. There are fees involved and since the majority of the films are Indie, many directors, writers, and producers don't have the luxury of entering every festival. 

"In my case since I don't have money, you got to target it like a sniper," said Constantino. Once a film gets chosen for a festival it is a shining moment for the cast and crew but not the end of the road.

Since Constantino first screened his short four years ago, he is still waiting for the perfect offer to get his film widely distributed. 

+ posts